BATON ROUGE, La. (LSU Manship News Service) - The Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would restrict prisoners convicted of 1st-degree murder from seeking medical furloughs.
The bill would significantly weaken one part of the broad changes in the criminal justice system that the Legislature approved last summer to reduce the number of inmates and cut prison costs.
Sen. Ryan Gatti, R-Bossier, sponsored the bill, which passed by a 28-7 vote. It now goes to the House.
Gatti cited the high-profile case of Clyde Giddens as the inspiration for his bill. Giddens pled guilty to the gruesome 1963 murder of Earlene Bamburg of Red River Parish.
Gatti spoke against Giddens’ request for a furlough at his March 15 hearing. The Board of Pardons and Parole, which also oversees the medical furlough program, voted unanimously to deny his request and keep him confined at Angola.
When it was approved by a committee, Gatti’s bill also would have eliminated offenders convicted of 2nd-degree murder from consideration for the furloughs. Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, proposed an amendment on the floor Tuesday to disqualify only prisoners convicted of 1st-degree murder, and it passed.
The Board of Pardons and Parole has considered eight offenders for medical furloughs since the program took effect in November. Of those offenders, five were granted furloughs. Two of those had been convicted of 1st-degree murder. The three other requests were denied.
The program is intended to temporarily house the aging prisoners with limited mobility, dementia or other medical conditions that make them among the most expensive inmates to care for behind bars.
By housing and monitoring inmates at off-site medical facilities, the Department of Corrections can shift treatment costs to Medicaid, which is substantially funded by the federal government.
At Gidden’s hearing, Dr. Randy Lavespere, the medical director at Angola, detailed Giddens’ various ailments that would ordinarily qualify a similarly disabled individual for placement in a nursing home.
The medical furlough program was a minor element of Act 280 which aimed to reduce Louisiana’s incarceration rate, the highest in the nation. The portion of the legislation regarding medical furloughs built upon the state’s existing medical parole program which was only available to terminally-ill nonviolent offenders.